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Halo: Stealth Combat Evolved: Part 1-Chapter 5
Posted By: Mind_Affecting_Parasite
Date: 18 September 2004, 10:40 PM

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       "So, ah, you on good terms yet?" asked Lance Corporal Isaac Pearls, scooping up another bite of mashed potatoes. "Like, um, are you mates chattin' and such?"
       "Well, I guess, some. We got to a little bit of talkin' after it happened," answered Dick Shanks, himself biting into a piece of breaded chicken.
       "Will she be alright?"
       "I hope so. Maybe we'll make up more," was Dick's response, looking around the large mess for a moment before noticing the approaching body.
       "Yeah right," former Captain Hall sarcastically cut in, his tray slapping the table's surface, and himself sitting down next to Isaac.
       "Hey Johnny boy," casually greeted Shanks.
       "What's there for her to be alright about?" questioned John, having overheard the last two pieces of dialogue. "Come on, what's the shit?"
       "Notin' too serious, bro. Me and Libby just got in a fight; she saw me with da new squad CO," said the Corporal, looking down at his meal. "Don't know what was up her ass, I just hope we make up a little better."
       The former Captain was just shoving a large mouthful of dressing drenched salad into his mouth. "Why? She not talkin' to ya or some shit?"
       "Well, we're married, ya know? So I like to be on good terms with da wife."
       The off duty Lance Corporal looked on for the time being, finishing up his gravy lathered potatoes.
       "Aw, you know you just want some more of that black puss," Hall jested, just swallowing and letting out a light laugh and a smile.
       Dick shrugged, a half-smile tugging at his mouth. "Maybe, but I ain't got none of that in a while. What with da war and crap, just no time for that kind of stuff, bro."
       "Give it some time, mate," put in Pearls. "I've seen this kind of fuss before, it'll blow on through in a day er so."
       "I can hope. So," Dick paused to pick up a medium sized packet of milk and gulp down the full continents. "What 'ave you boys been up to?"
       "Well," Isaac managed to answer first, through a mouth filled with corn. John was busy sucking up the last of his salad, and moving his fork to his pasta entre. "Just been hangin' out 'round the place since we all got back."
       "What's goin' on with da guys who don't have a ship to go back to?" the Corporal wiped a drop of white milk off his dark skinned face.
       "Haven't heard?"
       A shake of the head from Shanks. "Just rumors and stuff."
       "Some of 'em are gettin' reassigned to the 'station. I guess the rest just get moved into new squads on another ship," Pearls had been lucky enough to have been on one of the ships that hadn't taken a hit, and so was fortunate to be staying on the vessel he had grown accustomed to. Right now, many of the shipboard military personnel were getting a little visit on the station; a little R and R. "Suppose part of that is what got Libby in a fluster, eh?"
       "Right," said the Corporal, grabbing his cleaned tray and standing.
       "Leavin' already?" asked Hall, just managing to swallow a fork-full of spaghetti and speak.
       "You're the one who just got here, bud," replied Shanks, taking short steps away. "I'll be in the gym."
       "See ya in a few, mate," assured the Lance Corporal.
       The former Captain just nodded a dismissal, again stuffing his face with tomato-sauce coated food.
       Pearls took a drink from his beverage packet and smirked, slowly shaking his head at the retired Marine still next to him.
       John watched his old friend leave for a second, chewing his over-sized mouthful, before noticing Isaacs eyes on him. "What?"

       The dried dark-purple blood came off fairly easily with each wipe of the soft cloth, returning the surface of the silencer back to its usual matte-black. All sorts of parts and equipment were spread across the table over which the work was being done. Barrels, stocks, firing mechanisms, grips, scopes; some reflecting little light from their dark hue, others glittering in the light; anything that one could image a modern warrior taking to work was there. All of it was in pristine condition, kept up with and maintained by a careful and deliberate owner.
       This was the first time since the fight on the planet, that this soldier had gotten a chance to fully clean and inspect his weapons. Around him, and through an open door, was the rest of the Spartan Armory, stocked with plenty of weapons and ammunition for the team's missions and training exercises. It was similar in shape and layout to a standard Marine Armory, but it had its differences. The room still had its two long weapons racks running down the center, but instead of many sets of standard weapons, more personalized sections had been created; all the components of the specialized weaponry neatly organized and set in their places.
       Spartan-036 sat in the back, within the small room at the end of the Armory, in front of the table, where all his gear lay next to all the cleaning supplies. His hands gently caressed and cradled the cylindrical silencer, removing the final traces of the last alien he had killed with it. The elite soldier could have let someone else clean his equipment, could have assigned some weapons specialist to do it; but that was not the way of a sniper. No, Raul wouldn't have trusted his weapons to anyone but himself, and maybe his fellow squadmates.
       The Rifleman set the silencer down on the surface before him, next to all of the other disassembled gear. Making sure that all of the pistol components had been dealt with properly, and arranged together, his eyes moved to another piece of equipment. He grabbed his favorite, and still assembled, weapon: his S2 AM. He hadn't gotten to use the capabilities of his main weapon on the last mission; the stealth measures on the ground preventing him from firing the powerful device, and the confined spaces in the Covenant ship keeping him from effectively implementing the Sniper Rifle. Still, he would clean it; make sure no dirt or dust would hinder its performance, and that everything else was still working properly.
       Skilled hands quickly took the weapon apart, the different components finding themselves arrayed on free spaces in front of the precise soldier. The parts wouldn't be put back together the same way to be stowed. Raul had customly configured the setup of the weapon before he had embarked upon his last operation. When he put the device away, however, he would do so with it set up in a standard fashion.

       Within another hour, Spartan-036 had neatly put his weapons and other equipment back in their places, about the room. He didn't mind that the task of cleaning weapons took him long. Actually, this soldier rather enjoyed it. Raul had always been one to spend time alone, by himself, with no distractions. It gave him a sense of peace and relaxation. Besides, that was what it was like in the field anyway.
       He was a sniper, and so often spent hours in a single place, not taking his eye from his scope. Single shots could make the difference in a battle; determine who ultimately lived and died, won or lost. Taking out the commander of an army of Covenant troops would throw the forces into temporary dismay, creating a distraction for the other two team Spartans, or a time of weakness for an attack.
       Of course, then there were those times when the combat became much more tense. Raul might still be on his stomach, covered in a camouflaging ghillie suit, with his long-range weapon trained on the enemy; but the battle conditions were what could change. He could have to fire between friendlies to score a hit, or engage in firing upon very active foes. Then he could come under fire, a smart or observant Elite commander having noticed or guessed at his position. This Spartan had been forced to continue firing with Wraith plasma mortars exploding around him, or heavy plasma and Needler fire peppering his location.
       Then there was another test of his skills that Raul might have to endure: his camouflage. He was trained in the art of blending into his environment; an obvious sniper wouldn't be an effective one. With the aid of suits and his own setting, the Spartan would disguise himself. The ability to blend in was often the only thing that kept him alive in many circumstances. This Spartan sniper had experienced many close calls; Covenant soldiers walking withing touching distance of him, lights shown right upon his form, he had even had a Grunt step on his back before.
       Yes, the battlefields where he fought could become excessively dangerous; but did that sway him? Did that make him question his resolve to fight for the UNSC? Did that frighten him to the point of just running away? No, it didn't; because Raul new his duty, he knew what he was trained to do. He had been raised as he had for a reason, he had been selected and trained for a reason. Mendez, Doctor Halsey, his fellow Spartans had all helped him become what he was: a highly skilled soldier.
       Spartan-036 liked his "job," too. For him, nothing could beet the thrill of combat; a hand's breath away, or a mile away, fighting and killing any enemy that would oppose him was what he did best. But still, he preferred working as a whole with a team. Knowing that his friends weren't far away.

       The last of Raul's equipment slipped into place, held securely in one of the several weapons lockers. His post-mission acts were complete, now came the time where he could do what had started to become exceedingly rare in his career: rest, and just take a break.

       "So, Commander, has anything interesting happened while we were away?" asked Commodore Ford, looking at one of the many view screens offering a view of space.
       Williams sighed, putting more of his weight against the brass railing as he leaned further, relaxed. "Not much, sir. Just the normal anomalies one would expect out here."
       "I've been lacking of a good 'normal' report in a while," responded the Commodore, looking over at the station's commander. "Go ahead and tell me everything."
       "Everything sir? Well, to tell the truth, even everything won't last a while."
       A grin from Ford.
       "A comet passed by a few days ago, and we had a star go supernova a few light years away, a real sight, if I may say so myself. Other than that and a few large masses in the slipstream, we just had to watch the stars flicker."
       Morgan Ford watched the last mentioned event on the large view screen, millions of pinpoints of light dimming and growing brighter in the darkness. It had been a while since the Commodore had been able to just stand and observe the quite vacuum filled spaces. All the times in that recent past that he had viewed it had been under different circumstances; engaging a Covenant fleet, exiting a random jump and hoping that the enemy hadn't followed them, returning to the Lambert Space Station and wondering if everything was still okay. There was a big list of things to be concerned about when traveling in space. One could never be assured that they were safe.
       "Commander," he began again, a thought entering his mind. "What about those large masses in Slipspace?"
       "What about them, sir?" asked Williams, standing up a little straighter.
       "Did any of them look like they were out of the ordinary?"
       "You mean, did any of them look like Covenant?"
       Commodore Ford's face answered the question.
       "No, sir. None of them had signatures that struck me as a semblance to any known Covenant ships. They only scanned as a comet and a large asteroid."
       "Good. I just like to be sure."
       "I understand, sir."
       Morgan let himself relax a notch.
       "Well, wait a minute," Brent said, getting to thinking. "I did pick up a rather odd signal a day ago."
       Ford's face became serious again, turning towards the Commander, and standing erect.
       "It had a strange energy reading, like it was powered, but it was not that large at all. Not even large enough to be a dropship; and besides, even Covenant don't send ships that small through Slipspace."
       "But you don't know what it was?" the Commodore was not assured.
       "No, I'm sorry sir, I'm not sure," Williams looked over at the Slipspace monitoring station. "But I can show you."
       "Please, Commander. Do."
       Brent quickly proceeded in bringing up the readings from the aforementioned time and date. "There. See?"
       "Hmm, interesting indeed," commented Ford. The object was small, only about the size of an HEV, but that wasn't what was curious. Instead of reading like a rock or mass of ice and gas, it was metallic. It moved, too; the object hadn't just gone in an curved path, or even a straight one, it had actually stopped and turned around. All of it was highly irregular.
       "It couldn't have been a ship, sir. For one, the size is an obvious reason; and two, we've never known of a ship simply showing up and leaving. They always attack, whether it's a good idea or not."
       The Commodore nodded. "I agree. I can't remember this type of occurrence-" Morgan's heart fluttered. "-except for a probe."
       "A Covenant probe, sir?" Commander William's face lost some of its color.
       "What would an unidentified Human probe be doing out here, son?"
       "But, that would mean . . . it could mean they are going to attack. Couldn't it? I hope . . . maybe, just maybe, it was just an anomaly, nothing serious."
       "Well, we'll just have to keep an eye out for this kind of thing. For all we know, this could have just been some reactive element that found its way out here in Slipspace. But, for sure, keep alert. We don't need any Covenant forces surprising us out here."
       "Yes sir."